Stenography vs. Digital Reporting: A Battle for the Ages

Capulet vs. Montague.  Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire.  Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift. Much like these storied feuds of literature and history, the enduring battle between stenography and electronic reporting rages on into the digital age as both sides refuse to relinquish their claims of superiority.  Stenographers will argue that their extensive training in the art of shorthand reporting makes them uniquely qualified to capture testimony completely and accurately, but as a digital reporter, I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I’m completely baffled by the suggestion that it is even possible for a stenographer’s transcript to be superior to one produced straight from the video record.   How can a stenographer’s certification of accuracy, which is simply just his or her controvertible assertion of quality, compare to an indisputable video record of testimony?  It simply cannot.

Transcript corroboration is what sets digital reporting apart from traditional alternatives. And while a video record has the added benefit of capturing some non-verbal testimony that can enhance the reading of a transcript, its greatest feature remains its ability to reinforce the veracity of the written word.  Eliminated is the possibility that, come trial, a witness can claim the reporter got it wrong.  Recently, my business partner, Erin, was recording an arbitration proceeding where the witness claimed to never have said what was reflected in the transcript.  Per the judge’s request, Erin was able to pull up the video and play the contested portion of the witness’s testimony, affirming the verity of our product and the deceptiveness of the witness.  Can a stenographer’s certified transcript alone do that?  I think not.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I actually have great respect for stenographers.  As an experienced transcriptionist, I very much appreciate the talent involved in balancing speed and accuracy in document production.  However, as technology progresses, I find that the development of such skill is becoming more and more unnecessary.  Why type now and risk error, when you can shoot now and type later?  No matter how well trained the stenographer, he or she simply cannot capture every word with 100 percent accuracy. But with a video record that I can reference over and over until I’m certain I’ve transcribed the testimony completely and accurately, I can assure that I’m providing my client with a superior product.

So when all is said and done, the choice between stenography and videography comes down to whether you’re willing to take a risk.  If your case hinges on the veracity of a deposition record, are you willing to unequivocally trust that your stenographer got it right or would you rather have a video record to corroborate that transcript?  Can you risk trusting a witness won’t suddenly change his or her testimony come trial and blame the steno for getting it wrong or would you rather have a video record available to verify the accuracy of your transcript?  If it was me, I’d go digital.  What about you?


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4 Responses to Stenography vs. Digital Reporting: A Battle for the Ages

  1. Suzanne Lee says:

    I have been a stenographic court reporter since 1999, and I agree with the logic in your post. Technology is advancing, and it seems unreasonable to not take advantage of the aspects of technology that would make a court reporter’s job easier. Because I have worsening fibromyalgia, I have seriously investigated both voice writing and digital court reporting options. Being located in Alabama, the main issue I have thwarting my ability to pursue the digital route is state statute, which requires licensed court reporters to be machine writers or voice writers. The attorneys themselves are another hurdle. There are some who expect rough drafts to be emailed to them at the completion of proceedings. Recently I was contacted about covering a deposition, and two weeks after it was scheduled, the attorney’s office called back to verify I was not a mask reporter. There is no argument that digital court reporting has some unique features to offer, and I feel very strongly that it will continue to develop and gain wider acceptance over time. However, I think it is somewhat unfair to both sides to compare stenographic and digital reporting. It is really not that one is any better than the other; it all depends on the purpose for which the record is being made and which tool would serve to best meet that purpose. Because of the nature of the legal field and the different ways the “record” is utilized in litigation, I suspect there will always be a demand for a variety of court reporting methods.

    • Suzanne,

      I’m a little on the fence about your post here. I think that in the legal industry, as in all other industries, you will have the early adopters, the main stream, and the late adopters of technology. Education about our method and rinsing the legal industry of the filth that some stenographers make it their business to spread about digital court reporting is the only way to push through. Digital recording, or analog recording for that matter, is not a new idea, but being able to make it reliable and feature-rich enough for the legal industry is. That’s why digital reporters are fighting an uphill battle against older, more rooted reporters that have been in the business since the Stone Age.

      I think the reason attorneys would call and verify someone isn’t a voice writer is because the process of voice writing is rather distracting. I wouldn’t want to take a deposition with someone mumbling right next to me either. I certainly wouldn’t want my witness to be distracted either. Digital reporting, though, is even more silent than stenographic court reporting. We don’t interrupt to have people repeat things because we don’t need to. We don’t need to sit between the attorney and the witness because we can do our jobs perfectly well from the other side of the room.

      As for rough drafts, we have our own version of a rough draft. It’s called a CD or mp3 you can play on your car or plane ride home. We can provide next day service, just like everyone else. Digital court reporting in Ft. Myers is a team sport.

      Now, as always, I will state the obvious caveat that we cannot provide realtime. Some attorneys find it very useful to annotate a transcript as they go along. I get that. But these cases are few and far between. Beyond ADA services for the hearing impaired, realtime is almost always overkill because most attorneys don’t even use it properly.

  2. Chet says:

    Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

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